Rediscovering Oahu's Unmatched Travel Experience - P. 5


On Monday morning we hurried down to the Regency Club in a state of high expectation. Sunday’s Waimano Pools hike had forced our bodies to work overtime to rebuild overnight, leaving us famished. We weren’t disappointed. The buffet selection was different but every bit as tempting and varied as Sunday’s, with a few hot gourmet dishes and an assortment of fruit and pastries for that luxe touch that distinguish four-star hotels.

We took our plates out to the patio again but the stiff breeze and the sight of several pigeons destroying a breakfast left unattended by another family sent us back inside. We placed our dishes on a coffee table right in front of the large monitor playing surfing videos, and plopped into an immense leather sofa.

Hanauma Bay Hanauma Bay’s horseshoe shape offers snorkelers some — but not total — protection from wave action on windy days.

Through the plate-glass windows we could see the tall palms hula dancing outside. It served as a reminder to me that snorkeling conditions may turn out to be less than ideal at Hanauma Bay where we had planned to spend the late morning and afternoon.

Snorkel Bob’s

After breakfast we called down to the valet service for the Jeep. From the hotel we drove southeast on one-way Kalakaua Avenue to Kapahulu Avenue where we turned left. In about five blocks we saw the small pink strip mall housing Snorkel Bob’s. The fellow there offered us three levels of gear. We decided that the mid-level had the quality we needed. They cost around $12 each per day, as I recall. He threw in the free use of a bottle of anti-fog gel provided we return the unused portion with our gear.

People who have never snorkeled in the ocean have the impression that it’s a perfectly easy, safe activity for everyone. That’s a dangerous misconception. Snorkeling in even small waves is physically demanding and not for anyone who isn’t a good swimmer. Even excellent swimmers run into trouble when they try snorkeling with masks that don’t fit well or fog up, especially when combined with cheap snorkels that can get flooded with salt water.

When you’re paddling around over a coral reef, a wave can pick you up and drop you onto a stretch of sharp coral, cutting a gash across your belly. Or it can push the tip of your snorkel briefly underwater as you gasp for a breath of air. Under those conditions, it’s easy to become disoriented and gulp or even breathe water. Even if you’re experienced enough to stay in full control, you wil sip enough salt water until you get dizzy and even disoriented, especially as fatigue sets in.

All this is by way of emphasizing the importance of renting good snorkeling gear and spending a few minutes to practice using it. Even if you have your own gear it’s not worth lugging it on your trip. Most likely, your gear isn’t up to the quality you can rent at reasonable rates from Snorkel Bob’s or another quality rental shop. If it is, it’s probably too heavy and bulky to cram into a carry-on.

The clerk at Snorkel Bob’s, who seemed knowledgeable about conditions around the island, told us the seas were choppy that day at Hanauma and that we might enjoy better conditions at the beach in front of the Ko Olina resort on the southwest coast. We considered his advice but decided to head to Hanauma anyway. For one thing, conditions can change in the span of an hour. And even under the worst conditions, we felt Hanauma Bay was protected well enough to guarantee at least acceptable conditions. Besides, it happens to be one of the island’s most scenic spots. Even if we didn’t go snorkeling, it was worth a visit.

Our cruise from Snorkel Bob’s through Kaimuki, Waialae, upscale Kahala and watery Hawaii Kai on the Kalanianaole Highway took about fifteen minutes and got us to the entrance to the parking lot a few minutes before noon. We saw a car ahead of us being turned away and assumed the lot must be full. As we were about to turn and drive off, an attendant motioned us to enter. Apparently early visitors had just begun leaving.

Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay is on every Oahu tourist map. Despite the number of visitors who flock there on a typical spring or summer day, it remains beautiful, pleasant and usually the best snorkeling site on Oahu — or, for that matter, anywhere on the Hawaiian Islands.

The State now charges admission of $7.50 per person for anyone 13 and older. The Bay is closed on Tuesdays to give the coral and fish a chance to recover from all that suntan oil and damaging contact with human hands and feet. During tourist season (April through September) if you get there between the hours of about 11:00 and 3:30 pm, you may be turned away by the limited parking and the strict cap placed on the total number of visitors.

After we bought our tickets we were directed to form a line for a semi-hourly showing of a video about how to conduct ourselves while at Hanauma Bay. It warned us not to stepping on or touch the coral or the fish and sea turtles.

Hanauma Bay is shaped like a horseshoe, with the snorkeling taking place mostly in the sheltered inner cusp. The coral reefs also keep the wave action down to a minimum. On windy days the water is choppy enough to stir up sediment, cutting visibility to just a couple of feet. In the spring Oahu’s entire windward coast is susceptible to choppy seas, even Hanauma Bay.


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